Short-eared Owl or Hidden In Plain Sight

I went to Bombay Hook NWR with the goal of seeing a Short-eared Owl up close. Getting a picture of one was a close second. I had been there a few days prior and got only a single terrible quality picture through the windshield. Of course I was sitting in Shearness Pool long before the sun broke the horizon. And then suddenly I saw it, a Short-eared Owl flying up and down the path hunting! I started driving to catch up to the owl but the owl wanted no parts of me and kept hunting. Eventually I lost sight of the owl and I pulled over to try and re-spot it.

While I was looking I noticed a line of cars pulling into a line and parking. I didn’t see what they were looking at so I started to drive towards them. The closer I got the more disappointed I got because all I saw there were Mallards. I began to pull around the parked cars when suddenly I saw what they were looking at: my Short-eared Owl! And I was closer to it then I should have been. I was closer than they were. I was in danger of scaring it away, but I hadn’t seen it until I was right on top of it.

Short-eared Owl balanced on a reed.

I gingerly reached for my camera knowing too much motion would scare away the owl. And not only would I not get the shot I would have several car loads of people angry that I scared away the owl. Lucky for me the owl was very patient and understanding and simply looked around. It turned it’s head several times and looked right at me, posing for the camera.

Even though the light was very low still my new lens performed flawlessly. I ended up taking this image at ISO 4500 which, if you don’t know that is really high and will often produce a lot of visual digital noise in the image. I was going by the adage “noisy pictures are better than blurry pictures”. But even at ISO 4500 my shutter speed was very low so I was very thankful for the image stabilization of my Nikon 200-500mm lens. My previous long lens solution was a older model Nikon 300mm f/4 with a 1.4x teleconverter pretty much always attached. The older Nikon 300mm f/4 has no image stabilization. I don’t think I would have gotten this shot if it wasn’t for the stabilization. It is so nice when your equipment helps you instead of stands in the way…


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